Is there a titanium revolution on the horizon? Titanium bikes have always commanded a hefty premium due to the simple fact the material is hard to work with, but a potential development by the British government could make titanium bikes of the future cheaper to manufacture and purchase.
Scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down have apparently developed a process that reduces the 40 stages required in producing titanium down to just two steps. It says this could potentially halve the cost of titanium production.
Titanium, a material as strong as steel but half the weight, has its roots in the aerospace industry and it was only introduced to the cycling market in the 1990s, US brands like Merlin, Litespeed and Moots among the legendary brands that specialised in this rare and exotic material.
It’s a material that still in significant use by the military, from submarines to fighter jets, and it’s this continued use that has led to this manufacturing breakthrough.
“Our Armed Forces use titanium in everything from cutting-edge nuclear submarines and fighter jets through to life-changing replacement limbs - but production time and costs mean we haven’t always used it. This ground-breaking method is not only faster and cheaper but could see a huge expansion of titanium parts and equipment throughout the military. It is a clear example of how our world-class scientists are working behind the scenes to help our Armed Forces as well as bringing prosperity and security to Britain,” explains Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
The University of Sheffield is leading the development of this project with a £30,000 investment from the Dstl, and small-scale trials of the new process have been carried out so far. The process is called FAST-forge and involves producing components from powder.
Dr Nick Weston is better able to explain. “FAST-forge is a disruptive technology that enables near net shape components to be produced from powder or particulate in two simple processing steps. Such components have mechanical properties equivalent to a forged product. For titanium alloys, FAST-forge will provide a step change in the cost of components, allowing use in automotive applications in automotive applications such as powertrain and suspension systems,” he says.
We’re using potentially a lot here, but that’s all it is at this stage. It’s a long way from proving a concept in a lab to industrialising the process on a bigger scale, so don’t get too excited about titanium frames dropping in price anytime soon.
Still, it’s an interesting development and one we’ll try and keep an eye on.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.